Like many clichés, the myth of the "elitist liberal" contains a small kernel of truth. Senator Obama has made a big splash by remarking that people "are angry. They feel like they've been left behind," and that "there are a bunch of folks in small towns...who are bitter." Senator Obama just described a big slice of my life--at various times I have been left behind (unemployed, injured and without health insurance), angry, bitter and depressed. Every working-class American I know has seen it happen, and we all fear it.
Conventional wisdom states that the Republicans have steamrolled the Constitution and rammed this war down our throats through a craven use of 9/11. The Republicans are fear mongers, and good ones, but we must ask ourselves why they succeeded so well. They did well because we were fearful all along. I am a 55-year-old industrial building tradesman, and the professional and political elements of my life have been dominated by cutthroat, back-stabbing, winner-take-all competition. If you lose here, you don't just slide down a couple of notches like in some civilized country. If you lose here, you can lose it all--college for the kids, the house, healthcare, then maybe your health as well. That kind of stress has been the middle class lot for thirty years, and the only wonder is why it took this long to hatch out our fears.
Now everyone is talking about wealth and income inequality because... wait for it... it's not just bad for people, it's bad for the economy. You think?
This is where the "elitist" kernel of truth comes in. The Republican Party ignores working-class economic issues as a matter of idealogy and policy. The Democratic Party ignores us because it can, and because it is too fearful to specifically and adamently take a stand for our oldest and most cherished party value--economic justice. The Democrats also tend to recruit our backs and hands, while ignoring our brains and spirits. The last election I worked in was 2004, and we were only good for manning phone banks and going door to door. That's a long way from Eugene Debs, Phillip Randolph and Walter Reuther.
When was the last time the Democratic Party really solicited the ideas of the working class? And conversely, when was the last time the American working class forced its way onto the public stage and consistently and eloquently declared what we stand for? The two are related, and both the workers and the party are much the worse for not accomplishing either fact.
So here's a thought. Senator Obama has some fences to mend with Pennsylvania working stiffs, and he used to work with steelworkers on the South Side of Chicago. (I am from the South Side, and I used to work in those mills, and those guys needed people like the young Barack Obama, full of energy, vision and, most importantly, compassion.) So Senator, why not call some of those steelworkers and have them help you out. The Vietnam Vets did it for John Kerry--why not South Side Steelworkers for Obama?
Or is this still the country where you can talk about war if you're a warrior, but you can't talk about the economy if you're a worker? If that's the case, it's time to find out.